On Thursday, 31st May 2016, there has been a shark attack on a surfer in Mandurah, Australia. It has been reported that the man lost one leg which led to a severe blood loss and ultimately — death.
It is it not unusual that media in Europe cover reports on such attacks even though they happened on the other side of the world. I doubt that it is even likely that we would have to fear a shark attack here in Germany but still the news find it relevant to report that there has been “another” attack. The media report it because it is shocking and people are attracted to that. Many articles enjoy portraying sharks as cruel beasts of the ocean only waiting to get their next bite of human flesh — and this drives me mad!
It is perhaps one of the biggest crimes of today’s news media: The negative image of the (great white) shark.
Yes, I admit I am frightened by their appearance as well and I wouldn’t stand a chance if a shark attacked me — But is such a scenario actually likely to happen even if I went surfing in Australia?
According to Stephen Spielberg’s “Jaws” I should probably not even think about entering the water, yet statistics draw a different picture. The following statistic from 2014 shows the number of people killed by animals per year.
There around ten (!) fatalities caused by sharks a year, worldwide! Writing about the number one killer, the mosquito, would probably not get the people’s attention; an insect just doesn’t look as ferocious as the great white.
You might say “Hold on a minute, those are only the fatalities. What about the attacks?”
Indeed, there are more attacks as you can see a statistic from the telegraph which covers the number of all shark attacks and fatalities that happened in the last decade.
Still, I think that the number is very low compared to other animals and this is why I don’t like that the media jump on the news of recent attacks so quickly. The result is that sharks are hunted down in order to “free” the waters from them. People get angry when they read about young surfers dying and blame the shark.
In my opinion we are the ones to blame. How many times do people enter the water and nothing happens? Sharks are a lot more sensitive than people think and surfing at places were sharks have been living for centuries is a risk. If you take the risk you should be prepared for the worst. Instead there are some people who want to make surfing safer by killing sharks. However, driving the shark out of its natural habitat so we can enjoy our hobby is not just a stupid way of thinking but no thinking at all.
Fortunately there is also media coverage about the importance of sharks and statistics that prove that sharks are a minor threat. Yet, I think that if the news media continue the sensational writing about shark attacks they continue to spread fear and ignorance. Especially if the attack happened on the other end of the world it should of no interest for us in Europe. The film “Sharkwater”, a very interesting but also sad documentary, shows what will happen if the image of the shark cannot be improved by the media — and believe me it’s not a bright future.